By Yasin Kakande
Last Friday night, my younger brother Wahab insisted we should lock the doors to our single bedroom apartment we share in Acton, Massachusetts. For almost two years we have stayed in the same apartment; we always closed the doors but only locked them once in a while. But, after the mosque terrorist attack that killed 50 migrant Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, closing and locking our doors before going to sleep will be our new routine.
“You never know who might attack. White nationalists are taking their hatred to another level,” he said. “Whoever would want to attack, let’s not give them an easy entrance.”
The Christchurch terrorist act, albeit thousands of miles away, has reinforced legitimate fears among migrants and non-white citizens. The rising volume of white nationalist ideology and rhetoric from politicians and media platforms around the world always have concerned migrants and non-white citizens of the growing risks of discrimination in all sectors of life. Compounding them is the reality-based fear of recurring violence and murder, where even the sanctity of a place for prayer and meditation can no longer be guaranteed.
Many will have to eye and observe carefully, whomever approaches them. Some will avoid altogether the opportunities for congregation at prayer calls or parties, where the majority are people of color and migrants. Parents also must worry about yet another dimension of the children’s safety at schools.
Violent groups that espouse ideology of white nationalists are rising not just in Europe but also the U.S. and virtually everywhere in the world. These concerns and fears do not discriminate, as victims are both migrants and citizens and are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Africans, women and school children. Others are targeted for enlightened political views that confound the advancement of the white nationalist movement.
These angry white men draw their strength from elected politicians, academics and media executives and personalities who join in condemning violent attacks but do so in general platitudes that avoid calling out the ideology that has propelled these attacks. The restraint and silence are telling and, inevitably, these same politicians return as predicted to espousing their anger about immigration, reassuring their base they need not worry about them straying from the movement. It is similar to an individual saying Hitler had a point but was wrong to use systematic mass genocide. Or, one would claims to agree with the ideology of Osama bin Laden’s followers but not the way he sought to achieve it.
They describe immigration as an ‘invasion’, couched in hateful words that resonated with white nationalists who rewarded like-minded politicians by electing them to office. While elected officials have attempted strenuously to use legal means of travel and migrant bans as well as deportations, others have resorted to their own actions – mass murder.
As an African, black, Muslim and immigrant in the U.S., I am disturbed but the worst part is how the whole narrative of immigration is shaped and owned by people who believe it to be an immense problem. The white far-right conservatives seek a complete ban on immigration through building of walls, incarcerations and deportation of immigrants versus the white left and moderate liberals who believe border patrols and stricter immigration rules can suffice in restricting immigrants. However, there virtually is no voice for immigrants in this global debate.
If immigrants were given a chance to speak, they could explain in humane, convincing, reasonable language about their value and roles in their host countries, which inevitably touch many, many lives – ironically, including those of white nationalists. These include the value of their jobs in developing their economies and the social bonds they build with families as they always are on hand as nannies for infants and children or their presence as caregivers for the elderly and terminally ill.
Immigrants should not have to wait on sympathizers to respond on their behalf against this bigotry. It would be a small yet significant step if editors and gatekeepers of media platforms gave immigrants the opportunity to amplify their voices and stories.
Yasin Kakande is a 2018 TED Fellow and author of an upcoming book ‘Why Are We Coming,’ exploring the long history and current developments of global migration patterns as they apply to Africans.